Friday, 12 August 2011

The Big Picture

Well, after weeks, nay months, of talking about it I finally got around to painting a BIG picture. Yay, I hear you all exclaim lol. Ok, so it's not BIG BIG, but you try cycling with half a door under your arm! This is based on a gouache sketch I posted a week ago, which in turn is based on a photo I took on my recent holiday in Dorset. I used both the sketch and photo for reference.

The scene is the view from the rocky beach on the southwest of Brownsea Island, the biggest of three small islands which lie in Poole Harbour. The island is famous for being the place where Lord Baden Powell set up the first ever scout camp in 1907 and also for being one of the only refuges here in the UK for the native Red Squirrel (and no, we didn't see any, disappointingly). In the distance is Furzey Island which houses an oil drilling rig amongst the deep forestation, but I left this off as it did nothing for the composition :). Rising behind in the distance is the Purbeck  hills, a ridge of chalk hills, much of it heathland, which once continued to the Isle of Wight until the sea finally broke through to fill Poole Harbour at the end of the last ice age. From other view points on the island, you can also see across to a narrow peninsular of low lying land called Sandbanks, one of the most expensive places to live in the world! A very beautiful and inspiring place.

Look Grandad! oil on canvas, 12" x 16"

 Just to prove it's mine, here it is on the easel. The steel rule came in handy to check the freehand painted horizon was level - which I assure you it is now, although my wonky pictures may not help to convince you! I come from a long line of picture straighteners and so a wonky horizon would just not do. It would be the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard to my eyes! Evidence of one of my other passions - attempting to play the guitar - is just visible to the left.

My first big oil painting

And finally, here is one I took at some ridiculous time of the day in poor light. This shows the initial sketch which helped me to establish the composition and check general tonal values. I did this the night before the main part of the painting. Although it's not strictly an underpainting, it helped a lot, although I had to almost completely redraw the group of people who had appeared to have grown in size since the gouache sketch. The actual real painting took about three and a bit hours in one session (interrupted only by dog walking duties) so I'm going to call this Alla Prima :-P.

Happy weekend to you all, Michael.

Initial raw umber sketch


  1. Wow! It's beautiful! The figures are very well done and I love the reflections and the colours of the water!
    I laughed at the image of you cycling with half a door.... I don't own a car so I have transported many things on my bike, so I know how it feels. :-)

  2. Hi Judy. From one cyclist/non driver to another, thank you very much! I have managed to carry larger purchases before but the next size canvas up from this one was a definite no-no :O)

  3. Michael, I am proud of you. You took up the challenge I casually threw out when I saw your first posting of the holiday sketch and you have demonstrated that you are a true star.This works really well and you deserve to be proud of this work. If you wanted to tweak it a little try softening a tadge the sharp line between the sky and distant hills. Your daughter on the far right is beautifully drawn and painted but the child next to grandad is too long in the body and short in the thigh. As she is at the centre of the viewer's attention you may wish to revisit. Minor correction will sort this out. Well done my friend.

  4. Hi Roger and thanks for planting the seed! I really appreciate your kind comments and suggestions for tweaks. Softening the hills/sky division will be easy but I'll have to go back to the original reference photo to get the proportions of the girls correct. I think the girl on the right is a bit taller than I've indicated too and Grandad seems to be standing in deeper water lol. None of these people are related to me by the way - just a nice family group having fun!

  5. Michael...Don't change grandad. Let him continue to stand where he is in deeper water. Lengthen the legs of the child on the right a very small amount to give the appearance of standing in shallower water up to mid calf. The two children should then appear to be positioned side by side, an equal distance from the shoreline. If the centre child, as drawn, were to stand up straight,she would be slightly shorter in height than grandad, which is wrong. I think you need to give the appearance of a shorter torso by lengthening the thighs and raising the shorts waistline level with the waist of the second child.
    This will shorten the torso. Then if you shorten the arm just a small amount so that the finger tips are clear of the water the proportions overall should be much better.

  6. Thank you so much Roger for taking the time to explain this all so fully. I really do appreciate your help. I'll hopefully get time to give it a go over the weekend and then I'll put the tweaked version up as a new additional post.

  7. Really nicely painted Michael. The sea and the people are well done. Although the sea is calm, there is a lot of action.

  8. Well done Michael. I agree with Roger: the only real problem is the figure in the middle.

    If I was being really picky, I would say that the water looks a bit oily. Maybe you could put in a few flecks of white for broken reflections. Don't overdo it though.

  9. Can't make any suggestions that haven't already been made.. but I want to know why your other half didn't get a photo of you pedalling up the road with half a door under your arm! Now that would make a painting too :)

    This painting is lovely - and once tweaked will be outstanding!

  10. Renske - thank you! This is a really shallow protected bay, one of the biggest natural harbours in the UK/world, so yes it is quite calm :)

    Keith - thank you, especially for the advice! I've posted the tweaked version today :)

    Pat - thank you! I'll work on getting a photo of the cycling artist for a possible future painting lol :)

  11. This is really a good work, Michael! I especially like the beautiful effect of light reflected by the water, something that must have been really difficult to paint!

  12. Hi Lucia, and thank you. I liked the light too, which I guess is why I took the photograph for a future painting. It took a lot of white oil paint - much easier in watercolour as you know ;) - and my arm started to ache but it was worth it.


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